What does innovation really mean?

What does innovation really mean?

Creating value

In our fast-paced world with new technologies being developed every second and whole new industries appearing out of the blue every day, it seems like everyone is always talking about innovation. But what does innovation really mean? Innovation is actually harder than you might think to define. If you start googling it you will come up with a never-ending quantity of quotes and ideas. Just take a look at a few expert opinions. At first glance, there seems to be a cacophony of thoughts and ideas. Some say “innovation is relative”, some say “it is a process that brings new ideas”, and some say “innovation is simply an idea”.  And those are just a few examples; there are much more out there! So which is it? One thing that the experts seem to broadly agree on is that innovation brings something new to the table and that often this is linked to the creation of value and competitive advantage.

Innovation is not invention, or is it?

One of the areas where people seem to frequently get confused with innovation is when it comes to figuring out the difference between invention and innovation. The concept of newness is applicable to both ideas. When we think of invention, great moments of spring to mind like the creation of the wheel, the creation of telephones, the creation of computers and many more leaps of human creativity. So are these moments also innovation or innovative? And how can we define or understand the overlap between the two (assuming there is one)?

Some people argue that the easiest way to look at the two concepts is through a Venn diagram. In this model, innovation is the space where invention (newness) meets the market (utility, creating value). So it is possible to have a great invention without being innovative if you fail to create market value. But even here there are disagreements, with many people claiming that invention is the creation of something new while innovation means incrementally changing or improving something that already exists.


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 These days the terms innovation and invention are often used as if they were one and the same, and the truth is, the term innovation has become something of a trendy buzzword that is now added to pretty much every idea, start-up, marketing plan and new technology out there. If we look to the Oxford Dictionary (aka the holy grail of language) we find that both invention and innovation refer to the act of newness and creation. It’s actually hard to pull apart the difference between the creation of a new, method, idea product and something that has been invented. So perhaps the truth of the semantics is that in the modern world “invention” has evolved into “innovation”, and perhaps this is because when it comes to new creations in the modern world, the focus (now more than ever) is on creating something new that can be brought to market, and most importantly, to create something that creates value.

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